On September 30, 2023, Mohamed Muizzu emerged victorious in the Maldives official political race, denoting a critical turning point in the country’s political scene. Muizzu, the candidate of the Progressive Alliance coalition, secured 54.06 percent of the vote in a run-off contest against the incumbent president, Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, who conceded defeat shortly before 12PM.
This election not only tested the young democracy of the Indian Ocean archipelago but also carried implications for the strategic interests of global powers, particularly China and India. Mohamed Muizzu, aged 45, is the mayor of the capital city, Male.
He drives the Progressive Alliance coalition, a group that has advocated for closer ties with China and a departure from the India-first policy that was promoted by President Solih’s government.
Mohamed Muizzu’s mission motto, “India out,” mirrors his aim to realign the Maldives‘ foreign policy away from India and towards China.
In the first round of casting a ballot hung on September 8, Mohamed Muizzu got 46% of the voting forms cast, astounding numerous political eyewitnesses.
President Solih, on the other hand, faced challenges due to a low voter turnout and internal divisions within his Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), winning only 39 percent of the vote.
The run-off election thus became a crucial moment in determining the Maldives‘ future direction. China has been effectively taken part in the Maldives through its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), giving credits and speculation to infrastructure projects.
Muizzu’s return to power, along with his party’s historical ties to China’s BRI, is likely to strengthen the economic and political partnership between the Maldives and China. This could have far-reaching consequences for the balance of power in the Indian Ocean region.
President Solih had been blamed by Mohamed Muizzu for permitting an unrestrained Indian presence in the Maldives, prompting worries over the country’s sovereignty.
However, Solih maintained that India’s military presence was primarily for building a dockyard and would not infringe on the Maldives’ sovereignty.
Mohamed Muizzu vowed to eliminate Indian soldiers from the Maldives and look for a more adjusted way to deal with trade relations, which he believed were skewed in India’s favor.
While the election was seen by some as a referendum on India’s impact in the Maldives, it is quite significant that the essential issues at play were domestic, including economic and governance concerns.
Ahmed Shaheed, a former foreign minister of the Maldives, emphasized that the outcome reflected the government’s failure to meet these expectations, rather than being solely driven by concerns over Indian influence.
The Maldives, decisively situated in the Indian Ocean, holds enormous significance for regional and worldwide powers.
India has historically maintained strong cultural and financial ties with the Maldives and has sought to preserve its influence in the region.
Being in nearness to the world’s most active east-west shipping lanes, the Maldives has served as a key location for India to monitor maritime traffic in the Indian Ocean.
China, with its quickly extending naval forces, has been on gaining access to strategically vital locations like the Maldives. Beijing aims to protect its energy supplies from the Gulf, which pass through the Indian Ocean.
The Maldives’ arrangement with China’s BRI during Abdulla Yameen’s presidency from 2013 to 2018 was a significant development in this context.
Yameen, Mohamed Muizzu’s mentor, moved the Maldives closer to China during his presidency, alarming not only India but also the United States and its allies.
Concerns over China’s growing assertiveness in the Indian Ocean led India to become a member of the strategic Quad alliance alongside the United States, Australia, and Japan.
However, President Solih’s efforts to restore the Maldives‘ traditional posture were met with mixed reactions within the archipelago. Many Maldivians were skeptical of India’s outsized political and economic influence.
This division was exacerbated when Mohamed Nasheed, a charismatic former president, broke away from Solih’s Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and fielded his own candidate in the first round, choosing to remain neutral in the run-off.
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